Bill C-31 – Another Black Eye for Canadian Traditions of Fairness and Compassion

Bill C-31, which proposes modifications to Canadian refugee legislation, is a clear and mean-spirited attack on the rights of refugees under both international law and our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Among other negative provisions,  the Bill:

  • provides for detention without adequate opportunity for review for up to a year for persons found on vessels and other  conveyances entering Canada illegally
  • seriously limits the time available to persons claiming asylum to make their case to the Canadian government and to effectively instruct counsel to that end
  • significantly enhances the discretionary powers of  the Minister, including the power to designate countries as “safe”, thereby limiting the procedural rights of refugees and denying appeals to unsuccessful refugee claimants from these countries
  • permits even persons who have been granted permanent residency to be deported if they  return for some reason to their country of origin
  • effectively denies applications to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds unless applicants first renounce their refugee claims

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and many members of the immigration bar, including me, are confident that many of the provisions will quickly be struck down by the Courts. In the meantime, though, the new Act will create a morass of claims, appeals and ministerial edicts that will take years to unravel and will cause thousands of  people to be returned to dangerous existences in other countries.

The Government’s purpose is clear – to appeal to the  attitudes and biases of its political core. Herein it seeks to divert immigration resources to the benefit of corporations and to the detriment of unskilled, but legitimate refugee claimants. Since the impact of the Act on our reputation as world leaders in social justice will be subtle and will take time, the government will attain many of its corporate goals before the chickens come home to roost. By then the government will undoubtedly have other shiny objects to wave before the Canadian public to distract them from this issue. Further, as an added bonus, the Government will be able to rally supporters against the “judicial activism” of “liberal judges” under a written constitution and the meddlesome effect of the United Nations and its treaties on our “self-determination”.

Not pretty. But it is what it is and progressive lawyers and human rights activists cannot afford the luxury of inaction, even in the face of all this abuse of power.

I will be making it my purpose on this site to inform readers about all the tools that become available to advocate against this legislation in the coming months and years. I will also make you aware of other groups and individuals who can help, who can apply expertise far greater than mine to this situation. I look forward to your comments and questions.

Keep the faith.

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